Fantasy Division Update: NFC North

Happy Tuesday everyone, also known as "it’s not Monday anymore" day. If you need a pick-me-up in the middle of the week, there is no better way than to get a fantasy football update amid labor strife, at least when that update concerns our very own NFC North.

Who’s in it? Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings

Chicago Bears: Fantasy football wise, Chicago was very "Bears Football". Forte had #1 RB numbers, finishing 10th in the league. The D/ST unit put up a respectable 6th place, a clear starter. Our passing game…featured backups. Cutler finished 15th, Knox 24th (3rd string receiver in fantasy), Olsen finished 22nd (not worth owning in 10 team leagues). If you got special teams yardage/scores for receivers, Hester was worth having on your roster. What’s New? They added an elite offensive tackle in Gabe Carimi and a penetrating, powerful 1 gap D Tackle in Stephen Paea. So 2011… Call me a homer, but I think Cutler’s arrow is solidly pointed up. He posted a second straight 3000+ yard, 20+ TD season and is heading into his 2nd year in the system, with (hopefully) better pass protection. That lets him move up into the top 12, though I don’t know about top 10 until post free agency. I trust Forte as a #1 RB, as his receiving skills make up for poor rushing totals against elite defenses, and he should benefit from a 2nd year in the system as well. I am still very uncertain about our receivers. I think Knox will improve, but I don’t know if his stats will (more catches/higher reception %, but lower yardage per catch), and see him as a #3 receiver in 2011. I think Bennett may creep in as a solid #3-4 receiver as well, as I am very high on him and his 0% drop rate from 2010. I think Olsen moves up to be a solid #2 tight end in 2011, and may surprise as a #1 TE if Martz learned from the playoffs. I was going to worry about the D/ST as sack totals and pressures disappeared late in the season, but I hope Melton, Wootton, and Paea add enough to keep Peppers fresher and revitalize our D-Line for 2011. Either way, Hester keeps the D/ST in top 12 territory nearly every year.

Detroit Lions: The QB carousel was harmful in multiple ways as Stafford was hurt yet again. Hill finished #24 among QBs…Best finished as the 23rd RB, and showed some real flashes at times, especially as a receiving option. Calvin Johnson finished 5th among receivers and Burleson squeezed into relevance at #42. Pettigrew come onto the scene with a vengeance at times, finished 11th overall, and looked good doing it. Despite the defensive line’s impressive play, this D/ST was not fantasy relevant, finishing 17th. What’s New? DT Nick Fairley, WR Titus Young, and RB Mikel LeShoure So 2011…"If Stafford…" is said a lot. Well, here it is: If Stafford stays healthy… he can be a solid #2 QB. He also needs to learn to use Pettigrew like Hill was doing last year. Calvin Johnson is a #1 fantasy receiver. Pettigrew will be a #1 fantasy tight end in 2011. I think Best remains a really good #3 RB option, especially in PPR leagues, with potential to beat that status. I believe Detroit will use Young and LeShoure early, and often. LeShoure is one of my "sleepers" to pick up as a 4th-5th RB, because I see a TD vulture in the making, and with Best’s injury history, I’d handcuff if I drafted Best as a #3 option. Young may not be worth owning in fantasy in 2011…but his impact will be noted, on Pettigrew and Johnson’s stat lines, and perhaps on his own. I’d keep an eye on him as a mid-season waiver wire pick up as a bye week substitute. The D/ST? I see much of the same. Great D-Line play, flat back 7 play, and inconsistent ST play. This is a #2 squad who should be used during bye weeks only if the matchup is right. Watch them though, they could surprise. (its Detroit, they could always surprise!)

Green Bay Packers: Stunning fantasy season for the passing game. Aaron Rodgers finished #2 among QBs, Greg Jennings was #4 among receivers, and the D/ST finished #5. Finley spent the season hurt, and it cost fantasy owners. Brandon Jackson finished #28 among RBs after Grant's season ending injury. What’s New? Randall Cobb and Alexander Green. They got Sherrod, too. So 2011… Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings are true #1’s at their position and will be for the next 5 years, like it or not in Chicago. When Finley gets back, he has #1 TE written all over him. He might be the 2nd most athletically gifted receiving TE in the NFL after Gates. Who’s the third receiving option? This is where it gets tricky in Fantasy Football. Green Bay spreads out targets nearly equally. I think James Jones leaves in Free Agency, and Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, and Jordy Nelson all see enough to tease and have 1-2 good weeks, but none will be a reliable second option because Finley and Jennings are the prime targets. RB-wise, Ryan Grant may or may not be given his starting job back. I don’t think Brandon Jackson re-signs in GB, hence Alexander Green, who looks good enough to keep an eye on. I might take a flier on him as a #5 RB at the back end of my roster in case Grant is not all that ready to go in 2011. If Grant is ready to go, he is a #2 RB again…but his injury scared me, and I won’t draft him there.

Minnesota Vikings: Well… AP finished #2 among RBs, and that counts for something right? Favre was disastrous, Sidney Rice was injured, Shiancoe disappeared, the D/ST finished bottom 10 in the league fantasy-wise… Harvin managed a good #3 receiver season anyway, but man is it hard to tell when he will contribute.  What’s New? Christian Ponder? TE Kyle Rudolph. DT Ballard may replace DE Edwards. So 2011… We know what a gun is without bullets (paperweight), but what are bullets without a gun? Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are prepared to be a deadly receiving duo, they just need a QB. Long term Ponder might be, but I’d watch for an off-season veteran QB acquisition. If McNabb or someone of equal skill comes to Minnesota, Rice is a #2 receiver (though he may finish top 12) and Harvin is a #3 receiver. If Ponder starts, both become inconsistent #3-4 options that I don’t look at until round 8. I don’t trust Rudolph in year 1, but I bet he cuts into Shiancoe’s production and keeps him from being top 12. AP is a top 5 RB until further notice.  I think the biggest impact a veteran QB will have, if acquired, is motivating the D/ST unit to recapture top 12 performance in 2011. The D/ST couldn’t carry the offense last year; its play wasn’t as bad as the #26 rank indicates and is primed to improve with Ballard, Allen, and the returning younger Williams.

Final Thoughts: By the end of 2011, we should see 2 top 12 NFC North QBs, 3 #1-#2 RB options (Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Jahvid Best), and a handful of #1-3 receivers (Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, and 1 of the mentioned GB 3rd options)…Toss in TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Jermichael Finley with an outside shot of Greg Olsen and potentially all 4 D/ST units finishing top 15, and you have a very relevant (fantasy) NFC North in 2011.

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